Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E Kennedy
|Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E Kennedy|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Scott Kemp|
|Summary: Kerrigan in Copenhagen is crammed with information. But the deluge of trivia has a detrimental effect on both the plot and the characterisation, which is a shame, as there are flashes of absolute brilliance.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 245||Date: November 2013|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
Terrence Einhorn Kerrigan is an Irish-Danish American living in Copenhagen. He is 'a full-time writer and translator', who 'thinks of himself as a failed poet, which is a less complicated concept than a failed human being'. His newest writing assignment, however, is to 'select a sampling of one hundred of the best, the most historic, the most congenial of Copenhagen's 1,525 serving houses and write them up for one of a one-hundred-volume travel guide: The Great Bars of the Western World'. Kerrigan, though, 'does not wish the book to be written. He wants only to research it. Forever' - and preferably in the company of his green-eyed Associate, Annelise.
But this is simply an exercise in escape, for Kerrigan is still pondering the departure of his ex-wife, Licia, who also won custody of their daughter, Gabrielle. And so, to ameliorate his despair, Kerrigan takes to smoking and drinking, both of which he does to excess. And in the quiet periods between his endless carousing (and sometimes during), he tries to find solace in Finnegans Wake, a novel whose presence in his satchel 'alleviates any danger of his having to worry about being alone with his mind'. But he is, and he cannot outwit himself, no matter how hard he tries.
Primarily, Kerrigan in Copenhagen follows Annelise and Kerrigan as they drag themselves around the pubs of the Danish capital. For Kerrigan, it's a dream job, and he takes to the quaffing side of it with gusto, leaving Annelise to fill in the history. As the blurb states, the book is a 'Joycean romp through a magical city', and Copenhagen is minutely described to the reader, the characters excogitating on its cultural past and historically metamorphosing topography. Yet such musings have a devastating effect on the budding relationship between Kerrigan and Annelise. Early on, the narrator tells us that - because they 'substitute nicely for thought' - 'Kerrigan is a man of quotes'. And this is exactly what he does, he inundates us with quotes. Annelise, meanwhile, carries around a 'Moleskine notebook filled with...a seemingly endless cornucopia of facts', which is all very good, as long as we don't have to listen to them all. But we do, and this is what the novel is reduced to at times, two eggheads flinging facts at each other.
At one point, the narrator tells us what Kerrigan really believes, i.e. that 'To know facts is to have a handle'. In fact, one of his 'favorite hobbies' is the 'memorization and juxtaposition of dates', which is a hobby Kerrigan indulges far too often. He may be trying to 'construct an identity out of a mosaic of facts, dates, names, statistics, [and] history', but their relevance to his life is hard to see. If Kennedy had cast the novel moralistically, his narrative showing us the futility of an unlived life submerged in trivia, then it would work; but he hasn’t, and the asides just keep on coming, right up to the book's clichéd denouement. As such, we get potted histories on Absinthe, Hans Christian Andersen, Goethe, Kierkegaard, James Joyce, and J.P. Donleavy (plus myriad others), not to mention the pasts attached to the various drinking establishments. Unfortunately, though, it all became too much, and like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, I feel that Copenhagen's 'History...is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake' - even now, a week later.
And it's a shame, as Kennedy writes very well, and there are moments of real class. In one such instant, Kerrigan 'watches a swan drift past like a beautiful white question', and, in another, poetry is described as 'a struggle for breath, a column of breath, the spirit jet upon which the soul conveys its desire and its wisdom in words'. Nevertheless, these moments are few and far between, and the embryonic affair between Kerrigan and Annelise is smothered by the incessant contextualising and the fact that the book, like Kerrigan, is suffering from an identity crisis: is it a guidebook, a history, a novel, an essay? Who knows?
But it's this indecision that ensures Kerrigan becomes little more than a walking stash of quotes, a proxy through which Kennedy can impart his knowledge to the reader. If Kennedy was looking to create an erudite yet loveable character, and one who the reader can empathise with, he's failed. Instead, we have a drunk whose persistent quoting of the greats lets us know what we are really missing, and whose two-dimensionality makes us yearn for the literature on his shelves, his editions of 'Poe, Dostoyevsky, London, Aristophanes, Voltaire, Kipling, Saki, [and] Turgenev'. But the pleasures those authors hold have been denied to us here, so we must make do with our Thomas E Kennedy and Terrence Einhorn Kerrigan.
If, however, Kennedy is your thing, then why not check out Falling ideways, the second novel in his Copenhagen Quartet.
You can read more book reviews or buy Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E Kennedy at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Kerrigan in Copenhagen by Thomas E Kennedy at Amazon.com.
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